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Auckland, North Island, New Zealand
Wine tour operator, wine writer and lapsed physiotherapist. "Nature abhors a vacuum. I personally hate dusting."


Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The future of wine tourism ... reductio ad absurdum

Twelve years ago I launched my one-man wine tour company into a fairly benevolent and vibrant tourism market.  

From a first year net loss, to a second year break-even, I carried on to a healthy profit in year three.  At that time the inbound tourist numbers were dominated by USA, UK and Japan.  My target market was the FIT (free independent traveller) – well informed, intelligent, upper income bracket wine lovers. 

I had only one competitor and there was plenty of work for both of us.  After wasting $12,000 on useless marketing (largely print ads) in my first year, I fine-tuned my advertising to website, brochure displays and one small print ad in a giveaway tourist info booklet, Auckland A-Z.  As well as those sources, I established a good rapport with local high-end hotel concierges who provided a steady stream of referrals.   And things pretty well hummed along, then in 2001 the New York terror attacks forever changed the face of tourism.  Overnight the Japanese market vapourised.  USA and UK bookings fell away and many folk cancelled travel to NZ.
Slowly over the months the bookings came back (though the Japanese stayed away) and by 2005 I had my best year with 927 customers and a turnover in excess of $100,000.

But since then, it has been a steady decline - with numerous factors affecting tourism : the SARS epidemic, bird flu, terror attacks  around the globe, and finally the meltdown of the USA, UK and European economies in 2007.  Australian tourist numbers into NZ have been holding my business up for the last three years, but now eastern Australia is feeling the pinch despite the mining boom on the other coast – and now inbound AUS numbers from Queensland, Victoria and New South Wales are dropping.   
Today, my business is very much web based.  I rely on Google searches and referrals from TripAdvisor for about 80% of my business.  New Zealanders are starting to support my business with special event booking and corporate staff days out.   I do still get some pre-booked tours through overseas travel agencies, mainly Australian based – but this has dropped off dramatically in the last 6 months.  Plus , there are now around seven tour guides offering wine tours in Auckland.

So – is wine tourism dead?  Do I give up and look for another job?  Do I go back to physiotherapy?
In fact I have taken up some part time work in a wine retailer, I have started treating back and neck patients from home and I have a slow trickle of tour bookings coming through. 
But, I’m not in any hurry to give up the best job I ever had.  I’ll hang in there see where the roller coaster ride of  wine tourism takes me. 

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